Family involvement puts Columbia Swim Club in good position

Wednesday, May 30, 2012 | 9:16 p.m. CDT; updated 10:48 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Levi Hanks slows down as he prepares to turn for another set of laps at the Albert-Oakland Family Aquatic Center on Wednesday. Levi has a younger brother who also swims with the Columbia Swim Club.

COLUMBIA — The Columbia Swim Club uses families to help build its program.

Since becoming head coach of the club in 1999, Phil Garverick has coached many children and their siblings. Among the 150 to 180 swimmers on the team, 76 of them compete alongside a brother or sister, and some families have as many as four children in the program. Even more have older siblings who used to swim with the club. 

“Your interaction with other people is family oriented,” Garverick said. 

There is more consistency with the program because many parents learn how the program works when their first child becomes a member and don't have to relearn anything when a younger child joins, he said.

It calls for different coaching styles, though.

“You have to coach older siblings totally different,” Garverick said. “It’s an expectation thing.”

With children who are the first in a family to come through the program, the coaches must be more patient because they and their parents are learning. But as younger siblings come through, those expectations change. The children are expected to know what’s going on. They know what kind of discipline and dedication is needed to succeed.

The family as a whole also engages more, and that family dynamic is exactly what the club wants.

“The biggest difference is mindset — a little more high end but very simple and family driven,” Garverick said.

Garverick grew up with two older sisters in swimming, and his parents were a part of it, too. His father was an official, and his mother volunteered in many aspects.

Now, his swimmers are experiencing the same family involvement.

Like many others, 17-year-old Bianca Mello has a sister on the team. But her situation is different because she is a twin.

“We push ourselves a lot more than anyone else. We have a special push,” she said about herself and her twin sister, Nicole Mello. 

Both compete in the 100- and 200-meter freestyle. It's a good rivalry, Bianca Mello said, because they want to beat each other, but it is an "automatic push back and forth" to do their best. Their older sister, Nathalia Mello, 20, swam for Columbia Swim Club and is currently on the MU team.

Because swimming has a variety of races, competition between siblings is not always so prevalent.

Kay Rosenhauer is a 20-year-old distance swimmer at Lindenwood University, who is home for the summer and competing with the program.  Her sister, 18-year-old Sarah Rosenhauer, is a breaststroke swimmer. For these sisters, swimming together is about support.

“It’s goofy support, so you don’t take it so seriously,” Kay Rosenhauer said laughing.

Goofiness makes swimming more fun and helps them to do better, they said.

For some athletes, it takes some getting used to, especially when the younger sibling out-swims the older one. 

Haley Wen, 15, and her sister, Brittany Wen, 13, have been swimming competitively for six years. Once a swimmer turns 13, they move up from the age group program to the senior program.  Starting this year, the Wen sisters practice together, and competition between the two is present.

“One’s strengths are the other’s weaknesses and vice versa,” said their mother, Valerie Wen, who faces a constant challenge of choosing which daughter to cheer for.

Whether it causes an annoyance, support or a rivalry, the family aspect has certainly helped the program.

“We’re really balanced," Garverick said. "We have solid swimming at every age group.”

Success is measured in results and records.

The club placed second at the Missouri Valley Division I Championships in March. The competition consists of teams from the western half of Missouri and all of Kansas. The winning team, the Kansas City Blazers, has almost four times as many members as the Columbia Swim Club.

The club also sent 10 swimmers to the junior national competition in Orlando in March. Levi Hanks, an 18-year-old who will be swimming for Truman University next season, is training for the junior nationals this summer in Indianapolis.

But Garverick said one of the program's greatest successes in 2012 has been breaking 19 team records.

Garverick is sending 101 swimmers to the Meet Me in St. Louis meet, which takes place this weekend in St. Peters.

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